Our view of the Galile

Friday, May 18, 2018

Being Jewish-Parsha Bamidbar / Shavuot 2018 /5778

Insights and Inspiration
from the
Holy Land
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz
"Your friend in Karmiel"
May 11th 2018 -Volume 8 Issue 30 4th Iyar 5778

Parshat Bamidbar / Shavuot
Being Jewish

What makes you Jewish? It’s a question that many people who haven’t been raised with a Jewish Torah background would ask me; both Jews and Non- Jews. The Non-Jews would ask because they wanted to know. They understood, that it was not being observant keeping Shabbat or kosher, or even supporting Israel, tragically enough. Tragically enough on all of the above, not just the Israel part, because they knew lots of Jews that didn’t do any of that. They were also wise enough to understand that Judaism was not just a gastrointestinal religion or culture. It was more than an ability to digest or even an affinity for Gefilte fish, herring, kugel, blintzes, chopped liver and of course chulent. They understood that despite the fact that many of those foods may keep you up for some nights, it’s not enough to keep our people around for a few thousand years. So what really makes you Jewish they would want to know.

Now some might answer that it is wisdom, it is lawyers, doctors, accountants. It is comedians, Seinfeld, Jackie Mason. It is advocating for the needy and persecuted. On the other hand it is arguing, lobbying, fighting. It’s in your face. It’s a drive for education, greed for money, for success, for assimilation. I don’t think we have a monopoly on all of the above and I certainly don’t even necessarily buy into the stereotype. Except for Seinfeld of course. Perhaps the one common thing tragically enough about being Jewish though that is all of the above is the drive to become more goyish than the goyim. To out-goy them. But I would never tell that to them.

Now my Jews that would ask me the question had a different agenda. They knew that as an Orthodox Rabbi that was presenting the 3000 year old tradition of our people as it had been given to us on Sinai and as it has been practiced for pretty much the same and universally accepted way up until the past century when some decided it would be easier to just change the rules, I would tell them the answer that they would not like. I would tell them of course, they assumed, that what makes you Jewish is that your mother is Jewish, or you have undergone a conversion that accepts all of the commandments of the Torah. A conversion of course that doesn’t mandate that you accept all of the commandments, that gives you a few exceptions; you can still eat shrimp, still speak lashon Hara- gossip, still drive on Shabbat, still not fast on Tisha B’Av or celebrate Christmas is obviously not legitimate. They would then point out to me how unfair that was. How why shouldn’t they or their girlfriend or their step-mother not be considered Jewish just because they didn’t have a Jewish mother. They were more Jewish than most of their “Jewish friends”. They loved Israel, the observed more commandments, they gave to the JNF. They even had a Bat Mitzva, Brit, went to the mikva or had a Jewish confirmation ceremony-whatever that is… You may have even gone on a tour and climbed Masada with Rabbi Schwartz. Who was I to say who was Jewish or not? How dare I judge them? Why was I so closed-minded? See I knew they would say that, so I never took the bait.

Rather my general response was a Jewish response. I answered a question with a question. It’s really the only way one can arrive at the truth. Be careful, by the way of Rabbis that just throw you answers and don’t ask you questions. More often or not they just want you to hear them, and they are really not hearing you or at least trying to hear you. A questioning Rabbi is telling you I want to hear what you want to say. Generally that dialogue can reveal so much more and can help one integrate so much more. Both of you. The questioner and the responder. We both grow from one another and out questions. But I digress….So I responded and asked the very profound question. What does it matter? Huh…? What do you mean what does it matter? Exactly what I said. What do you care about what makes one Jewish. Is it because you feel you need my validation? Do you feel Jewish, anyways? Do you want to become more Jewish? Why is it so important to you know what it takes or what makes someone into a Jew? In addition why would or should anything I say make a difference to you? If you feel that you are Jewish, although your mother may not be. If you feel that you are Jewish although your conversion was not done in the traditional way, what does it make a difference what I think?

Are you worried that my son won’t marry your daughter? Do you really want to have me for your daughter’s father-in-law? Listen if she wants to marry him, she’ll probably have to be Orthodox herself, or at least know how to make a good chulent J. But really why do you care? Why aren’t you “Jewish” enough for yourself? Why do you need my validation?

The truth is every denomination of Judaism has it’s definition of what makes one Jewish. For Conservative Jews it’s only a conservative conversion and for many its only Patriarchal descent. Reform Jews pretty much have whatever requirements they must have, they must undergo some Jewish training. They go to a mikva. They can’t believe in Christianity and they have to donate to the building fund. Israeli Jews feel if you serve in the army that makes you Jewish enough, or if you love Israel. For many here it’s the opposite, if you stand up for the down-trodden Palestinians you are a Jew and if you don’t then you’re a heartless “goy”. Yet for some reason there is this gnawing feeling that bothers people from these backgrounds and affiliations, that ‘I’m not Jewish enough’. That ‘Rabbi Schwartz thinks I’m not Jewish’. Although they have no problem agreeing that someone else that might consider themselves Jewish, are not considered by them as Jewish if they are a different standard.

I remember when I was in Seattle I once had a meeting with a “Messianic Jew” who wanted to undergo conversion. After hemming and hawing a bit and after he assured me that he observed Shabbat, kosher and many Jewish holidays already, I broke the news to him. I told him that although Orthodox, Conservative and Reform disagree on a lot, particularly in regard to conversion we all pretty much agree that you can’t believe in the J-man and become Jewish. He asked me why can’t we believe that the “Messiah” had already come. Aren’t there in fact Chabad people that believe that the Rebbe was Messiah and might even come back as one… Ouch! I told him to ask a Chabad guy to explain the difference to him. But it was different.

Regardless we all have different standards, and opinions, perhaps that is the most Jewish part of all. Yet there is something in the Jew that knows that he is never “Jewish” enough. Something that still needs to be completed. Some place where I have to grow. Perhaps that as well is one of the most Jewish attributes.

This Shabbat we come to the conclusion of the counting of the Omer that we have been counting from when we left Egypt 49 days ago. We count from when Hashem chose us a as a nation and pulled us out of slavery and assimilation and we count until the holiday of Shavuot when we became for the first time a nation of Hashem. A nation with a Torah, a mandate, a mission that we accepted to bring Hashem's light and presence to this world. Most Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Passover. It’s fun, it’s nice, it’s exciting, it’s tradition. Every Jewish soul understands the message of Pesach. We are different than everyone else. Hashem preforms miracles for us. He saves us. They will never destroy us. We are eternal. Those are all messages that every Jewish soul connects with and makes a seder to pass it down to their descendants.

Shavuot on the other hand… not so much. Outside of Orthodox synagogues I would say there’s a 90% drop in attendance for Shavuot. And trust me if there wasn’t a Yizkor there would be more…For some reason, Jews don’t feel as connected to the message of Shavuot. The message of what truly makes us a Jewish. The remembrance and the reliving of that moment 3330 years ago this Sunday when we stood as one as a nation and heard Hashem announce the He is the one that took us out of Egypt, We shall not have any other Gods besides Him. We should observe, the Shabbat, we should honor our parents, we should not steal, we should not envy. We should follow all of the 613 commandments. We should follow the Rabbinic laws that will follow over the generations that are meant to be a fence around Hashem’s law. We should love our fellow man as ourselves and we should be complete and perfect with Hashem and with our neighbor. It is much easier to understand and define our Judaism by the notion that we are “not them”. But the Jewish soul ultimately will never be satisfied with that Pesach message. That Jewish soul also needs and screams for the Shavuot message. What makes me Jewish? How do I become a better Jew?

The Torah portion we read before Shavuot is Bamidbar. The Book of Numbers where we count and name the Jewish people and their tribes and their leaders. The verse tells us how each tribe camped
Bamidbar (2:2) Each man according to his flag with signs according to the house of their fathers they shall camp.

Rashi notes and describes this encampment

Each flag had a symbol and a colored sheet of cloth or map hanging in it. Each one had its own color that was different from the other. The color being the same that each one had as their stone in the breastplate of the high priest. That way each one will know his flag.

The Book of Bamidbar tells how when we left Sinai the most essential way for us to travel was for each of us to have a flag. That each Jew should know that he has a banner, a national banner, a tribal banner, a familial and personal banner that he is part of. Each Jew has his color on the breast plate that is brought before God in the Holy of Holies. Each Jew will always feel the need to connect and be part of that greater camp. For the mission of Shavuot, the mission of Sinai, the mission of our people will only be fulfilled when we are all on the same team. When we stop worrying so much about what other people think about our Judaism, but we are more concerned with answering the real call of our own souls to be better Jews.

Shavuot as well teaches us that sometimes, the Jewish question is not what will inspire us as much as the non-Jewish one. We get so caught up in our inter-Jewish politics we forget about who we are really meant to be and who Hashem has chosen us to be. So we read the story of Rus. The non-Jewish Moabite who sees and appreciates what it means to be Jewish. How it’s not about what I’m not or what others think I am but what I could and am meant to become to fulfill the longing of my soul. It’s mission. She is the heroine of Shavuot as is King David as well her grandson. They didn’t worry what others thought about their legitimacy. Their questionable and challenged roots or conversions. They worried about what they needed to do to become the Jews they needed to become. That is what Shavuot is all about, that is what we celebrate and the energy, resolution and inspiration we are meant to draw from the holiday.

This past week the entire world sat back and saw how the most powerful Nation of the world recognized Yerushalayim as the capital not only of Israel, but of the Jewish people. The world is aching for us to claim it as well. To claim not just our city, our capital, but our mission that we received to accomplish from it. To bring that light to the world. To connect the heavens to the earth. To be the best Jews that Hashem chose us all to be. May we all be inspired this Shavout to do that.

Have an incredible Shabbos and a inspirational Shavuot,
Rabbi Ephraim Schwartz


“A guter yid darf nit kain briv, a shlechten yidden helft nit kain briv.”- A good Jew doesn’t need a letter of recommendation; for a bad one, it would do no good.

answer below at end of Email
Q: It is possible to watch eagles in Israel primarily in:
A. The Hula Agamon
B. The Carmel hai bar
C. The bird sanctuary in Eilat
D. Wadi Kelt


https://youtu.be/DnrH04cu7SE  - Motti Steimetz beautiful rendition (by Rechnitz wedding) of Ko Amar Lechtech Bamidbar-in honor of Parshat Bamidbar

https://youtu.be/vOMmU2vUJQU  - Fantastic song by Zanvil Wienberger- All nations said no to Torah just the Jews in Yiddish but well worth it. Its really all you need for Shavuot!

https://youtu.be/GwcFq2rbCHA  - Hopping new single by Ohad and composed by Eli Klein and Yitz Berry enjoy Livado

https://youtu.be/dJZg8gV-30Q - In honor of Dovid HaMelech Yartzeit his great words- you have overturned my mourning -Hafachta Mispidi done amazing Acapella…

https://youtu.be/SY_v25-dqAo   – Hineni Kaan by Y-Studs in honor of Jerusalem, and its newest world recognition

Parshat Bamidbar- Haftoras can be read on the simple level and one can easily find the connection to the Parsha. Sometimes even in the first verse. But if you dig a little deeper there are many layers of connection you can uncover. All you have to do is pay attention and you may find them.
The first words of the haftora from the book of Hoshea are
Hoshea (2:1) “And the number of the children of Israel will be like the sand of the sea which cannot be measured or counted”
Being that we are beginning the Book of Numbers, Bamidbar, reffered to by our sges as the sefer Pikudim- the book of counting. The first words of the haftora are certainly understandable and appreciated. That although we were numbered and counted, ultimately we the time will come when we will be beyond that.
As well the haftora mentions the midbar- the wilderness in two seemingly opposite contexts. It first describes this vision that Hoshea had where Hashem demands that he abandon his own unfaithful wife and perhaps even illegitimate children, that he had originally been commanded by Hashem to take and produce. Hoshea, through this process understands the depth of love Hashem has for us and how He can never abandon us.
Ibib(2:5) Lest I will unclothe you naked and I will present you like the day you were born and placed you like a wilderness or put you in a parched land and you shall die of thirst.
Hoshea realizes that abandoning his children is like throwing them naked in the wilderness; the Midbar
Later on though he describes how Hashem comes to us, in our terrible state and weds us. He comes to seek us in the midbar.
Ibid (2:16) Therefore, behold, I shall seduce here and I shall lead her in the wilderness, and I will speak to her heart.
Finally this haftora is always read before the holiday of Shavuot, and as we know Shavuot is to a large degree our “wedding” to Hashem. Mt. Sinai is our chuppa over our head. And thus the haftora aptly relates to that as well. As it says
Ibid (2:18) And it will be on that day says Hashem, I will call you my husband and you will not call me my master.
The conclusion of the haftorah is familiar to many men who put on their tefilin/ phylacteries each morning and recite the connecting verses. After we place our hand and our head tefilin we wrap the straps upon our fingers, like a ring almost. We then recite these last words.\
Ibid (2:21-21) And I will betroth you to me forever. And I will betroth you to me with righteousness and with kindness and with mercy. And I will betroth you to me with faith and you shall know Hashem.
The perfect shidduch. When we place that tefilin, that ring upon our finger we have bound ourselves with Hashem. True as Hoshea notes we may not have always been the most faithful wife, ye the love Hashem has for us is there forever. That is the message and the celebration of Shavuot. And that is what we are meant to feel when we read this haftora each year the Shabbos before the holiday.

Hoshaya Ben Be’eri (600-530 BC)- Certainly one of the most fascinating of prophets, the talmud in pesachim tells us that Hoshea prophecized at the same time as Isaiah, Micha and Amos but he was the greatest of all of them. He was a prophet after the division of the 10 Northern tribes from Yehuda and Binyamin in Jerusalem and he lived in the North of Israel. Much of his prophecies revolve around the sin of idolatry that the Jews in the North, whome he refers to as Ephraim, can’t seem to kick and he foretells of the doom that will befall them. He is buried in the old cemetery of Tzfat according to the tradition of the Ari”Zl making it the oldest grave there.


 Ruth- 1290 BC- In America I found that I paid more attention to the reading of the Book of Ruth then I did here in America. See in Israel we have only one day of Yom Tov, the holiday. So after a whole night learning session we have to get it all in Ruth, akdamus, the Ten Commandments, yizkor; it is the davening that never ends. In the US though with two days of chag, we read Ruth on the second day after a good night’s sleep. But here in Israel though I am more in touch with Ruth than there. See because here I can point out and talk about her, more than just on Shavuot. After- all this is where her story takes place.
Where do we mention Rus, the great convert and great grandmother of King David and ultimately Mashiach? Easy. First of all whenever we go to Rachel’s tomb we note that the city of Bethlehem was seemingly a capital city of Israel. Kind of like the Baltimore to the Chevron which was the Washington DC Jewish capital city back then; long before Jerusalem was even in Jewish hands. It is where Elimelech and Naomi lived and where he did not want to help out his community with tzedaka during the famine. As well when I am at various lookout points in Judean desert, it could be Mitzpe Yericho, Mt. Azazel, or even by the road going down from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea- Highway 1, I note that this is the very same path that they took when they came down to Moav, which is today Jordan and the way that Rus returned. We are, to paraphrase Rus going on the “path that you shall walk, I shall walk” It doesn’t get more biblical than that! It is easy to tell that it is the same road, because it is the only break in Mountains- In Hebrew it is called Matzok Ha’Etikim or the separated cliffs, on the long mountain range that goes along the west Bank and the Judean Desert. It is certainly the only path to go to Bethlehem.
As well I mention Ruth whenever we visit farms and we cut wheat or other fruits and we discuss the mitzvos of charity that the farmer fulfills in Israel. Leaving over the corners of his field, and the droppings that would fall or the parts that he forgot. It is these mitzvos that led to Rus gathering in her relatives Boaz’s field and ultimately to their marriage.
Talking about their marriage as well, I mention that whenever we are in the gateway of a biblical period city, such Beer Sheva, Tel Dan, Chatzor or Megiddo and we talk about how the gateway was where the judges sat and was the central gathering place for important functions. Once again the Book of Ruth tells us that Boaz’s redeeming of her and the levirate marriage that he took the place of her deceased husband in place of the other relatives all took place in the sha’ar gateway of the city.
Finally of course whenever we are in Chevron, the city where her grandson King David ruled before Jerusalem for 7 years, we stop off at her grave there, as well as her grandson Yishai, who is next to her. It would seem that Dovid brought her there to be buried in his capital and where she remains until today. Certainly before Shavuot many flock to her grave to pray before we read her  great Book and story. So I may not be awake when they read it in synagogue, but don’t worry we speak about her plenty here in Israel.


A priest, a Pentecostal preacher and a Rabbi all served as chaplains. They would get together two or three times a week for coffee and to talk. One day, someone made the comment that preaching to people isn't really all that hard. A real challenge would be to preach to a bear. One thing led to another and they decided to do an experiment. They would all go out into the woods, find a bear, preach to it, and attempt to convert it.

Seven days later, they're all together to discuss the experience. Father Flannery, who has his arm in a sling, is on crutches, and has various bandages on his body and limbs, goes first. "Well," he says, "I went into the woods to find me a bear. And when I found him I began to read
to him. Well, that bear wanted nothing to do with me and began to slap me around. So I quickly grabbed my holy water, sprinkled him and, Holy Mary Mother of God, he became as gentle as a lamb. The bishop is coming out next week to give him first communion and confirmation."

Reverend Billy Bob spoke next. He was in a wheelchair, with an arm and both legs in casts, and an IV drip. In his best fire and brimstone voice he claimed,
"WELL brothers, you KNOW that we don't sprinkle! I went out and I FOUND me a bear. And then I began to read to my bear from God's HOLY WORD! But that bear wanted nothing to do with me. So I took HOLD of him and we began to wrestle. We wrestled down one hill, UP another and DOWN another until we came to a creek. So I quick DUNKED him and BAPTIZED his hairy soul. And just like you said, he became as gentle as a lamb.

They both looked down at the rabbi, who was lying in a hospital bed. He
was in a body cast and traction with IV's and monitors running in and out
of him. He was in bad shape. The rabbi looks up and says,
"Looking back on it, circumcision may not have been the best way to start." 

Several centuries ago, the Pope decreed that all the Jews had to convert to Catholicism or leave Italy.There was a huge outcry from the Jewish community, so the Pope offered a deal. He would have a religious debate with the leader of the Jewish community. If the Jews won, they could stay in Italy. If the Pope won, they would have to leave or convert. The Jewish people met and picked an aged, but wise, Rabbi Moshe to represent them in the debate. However, as Moshe spoke no Italian and the Pope spoke no Yiddish, they all agreed that it would be a "silent" debate.

On the chosen day, the Pope and Rabbi Moshe sat opposite each other. The Pope raised his hand and showed three fingers. Rabbi Moshe looked back and raised one finger. Next ... the Pope waved his finger around his head. Rabbi Moshe pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope then brought out a communion wafer and a chalice of wine. Rabbi Moshe pulled out an apple.
With that, the Pope stood up and declared that he was beaten ... that Rabbi  Moshe was too clever and that the Jews could stay in Italy.
Later, the Cardinals met with the Pope, asking what had happened. The Pope said,
 "First, I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there is still only one God common to both our beliefs. Then, I waved my finger around my head to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground to show that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and wafer to show that God absolves us of all our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of the original sin. He had me beaten at my every move and I could not continue.”
Meanwhile ... the Jewish community was gathered around Rabbi Moshe.
 "How did you win the debate?" they asked. "I haven't a clue," said Moshe. "First he said to me that we had three days to get out of Italy , so I gave him the finger! Then he tells me that the whole country would be cleared of Jews and I said to him we're staying right here."

And then what?" asked a woman. "Who knows?" said Moshe, "He took out his lunch so I took out mine."

Abe and Shlomo are strolling down the street one day when they happen to walk by a Catholic Church. They see a big sign posted that says: - ‘CONVERT TO CATHOLICISM AND GET $200.00’
Abe stops walking and stares at the sign.
Shlomo turns to him and says, “Abe, what’s going on?”
“Shlomo,” replies Abe, “I’m thinking of doing it.”
Shlomo says, “What, are you crazy?”
Abe thinks for a minute and says, “Shlomo, I’m going to do it.”
With that, Abe strides purposely into the church and comes out 20 minutes later with his head bowed.
“So,” asks Shlomo, “did you get your $200.00?”
Abe looks up at him and says, “Is that all you people think of?”

Yankel Cohen decided he’s had enough of Judasim and its poverty and its associated persecution so he converts and decided to become a priest. After months of study he is finally ready and he gets up to give his first Mass in front of a number of high ranking priests who came for the occasion.
At the end of the new priest's sermon, a cardinal goes up to congratulate him.
"Pastor Cohen," he said, "That was very well done, you were just perfect. But next time, please don't start your sermon with, "Fellow Goyim..."

Christine and Daniel fall in love and decide to get married - but only on condition that Christine becomes Jewish. So she goes to see Rabbi Levy for some advice.
Rabbi Levy tells her, "You will have to learn how to keep a kosher home, light shabbes candles, keep two sets of crockery and a few other simple things."
"That sounds easy to me, rabbi," says Christine, "I can easily do that."
Then Rabbi Levy says, "The last thing is, you must go to a mikva."
"A mikva?"
says Christine, "what's that?"
"It's a pool of water,"
answers Rabbi Levy, "and you must immerse yourself completely for a few seconds."
"I'm sorry, rabbi, but I have a phobia about putting my head underwater. I'll go into the water up to my chin but I won’t put my head under the water. Will that be OK?"
"I suppose it will do
," replies Rabbi Levy, "you’ll be mostly Jewish but you will still have a 'Goyisha kop'."

Answer is A – This is a confusing question that the consensus on my tour guide whatsapp group that I posed it to seems to think they – as in the ministry of tourism- who wrote this exam messed up. As far as all can agree there is no eagle lookout place in Israel. The Eagles are not indigenous to here and one would probably see them migrating either in Eilat or Hula where the migration goes through. And being that one can’t choose both answers so that is not what they meant. The other option is that there are places where one can see vultures in Israel they are raised in Gamla and Mt. Carmel by the Hai- Bar animal reserve. That is probably what they meant as the right answer. But they wrote eagle instead of Vulture because in old biblical texts and even English translation the word nesher- as in Hashem will bring us on the “wings of ______” the blank is usually entered as eagles. That’s wrong though. Eagles are not neshers, vultures are. Vultures have the longest wingspan and are the highest flying bird. All of the signs our sages tell us about the nesher fit with vultures and not eagles. So the MOT must have google translated or something nesher and came up with eagle instead of vulture. I dunno… but definitely I believe anyone who took this exam should get credit for this question.

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